Call for Papers

Call for papers: Symposium on Global Moral Panics (Submissions no longer accepted)
Friday-Saturday, October 10-11, 2014, Indiana University, Bloomington

Human Trafficking is hot, it seems. The issue is on every movie screen and newspaper front page, not to mention every legislative agenda. The hype abounds with fury for the evil of the pimps and coyotes, sympathy for the innocent victims, invariably nubile and young, and fiery resolution to rescue. Hugely exaggerated numbers elevate the decibel level of outrage. In short, it is a textbook moral panic.

The concept of a “moral panic” has been enormously useful to students of social life across the disciplines. Moral panics are instances in which agents of social control, particularly the police, but also the media and other agents of government and the private sector, amplify a given deviance in the public imagination. Moral panics are not completely made up; they have concrete phenomena behind them. In identifying targets of collective anxiety, however, they are wonderfully diagnostic of prevailing fears, values and hopes. Identifying human trafficking as a moral panic illuminates a unique feature of the contemporary political landscape, for many of the moral panics underwriting “reform” campaigns today are global in scope, in a particular way: they originate in the first world, fearing an encroachment of third-world threat, and they allow the framers to position themselves as blameless saviors. These moral panics are specifically enmeshed in geopolitical hierarchies, drawing on the gradients of transborder flow. They are “global moral panics.”

This symposium invites CES authors to analyze some aspect of a global moral panic. How does prudish outrage eclipse the view of laborers who cross borders to survive, performing non-sexual work that is as or more difficult, dangerous, and degrading than sex work, and much more poorly paid? How instead should we analyze the global inequalities that send some part of the world’s poor into motion to find work? What should we consider regarding the coercions of capitalism to force people to sell their labor anywhere, ensuring poor working conditions for many laborers native to a given country? How does neoliberal capitalism push people harder and further to the world’s archipelago of margins? Within the discussion of sex trafficking, how do the structures of patriarchy and male privilege make sex work tactical for women and young people of all genders, and how does the fetishizing and exoticizing charge of orientalism make it more profitable for people from certain regions when they travel to labor in others?

Further, what other phenomena register as global moral panics in this view? Where else do similar panics animate political life today? How else do first-world observers register terror over border-crossers—people or things negotiating various types of boundaries—who sneak over political frontiers, ignore distinctions between illicit and sanctioned kinds of labor, disregard the sanctity of private property, inhabit the stateless realm of the sea, introduce disease agents across human immune defenses, or muddy the lines between citizen, alien and criminal? What about the other issues framed in public discussion as contemporary international “crises” besides human and sex trafficking: the global drug trade, transnational gangs, high-seas piracy, epidemic diseases, and child soldiering? How does moral panic rhetoric help politicians, reformers, and activists blast coyotes, pimps, traffickers, narcos, kingpins, guerrilla generals, and Somali “Cap’n Hooks?”